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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: Whether you areresearching your local community or traveling abroad,you may find yourself negotiatingnew and unfamiliar situations.Undertaking fieldwork offers a prospectof real adventure and the opportunityto provide insight into ideas, people, and placesthat are unknown in most of the world.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: However, in visiting these peopleand places, you may encounter threatsto your safety and emotional well-being.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: We are not aiming to alarm or discourageyou, but rather to help you stay safewhen conducting your research.Through raising your awareness of problems that can arise,you can anticipate and successfully mitigatethese challenges.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: A first step in managing threats to you,the researcher, is to recognize and manage threatsto your emotional well-being.Because social research often aimsto dig beneath the surface with participants,it's not unusual to encounter emotionally charged topics,especially during open-ended, qualitative research.Even seemingly innocent topics, such as someone's childhood

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN [continued]: experiences at school, can unearth an emotional issue,perhaps due to a participant's unresolved psychological traumaabout having been bullied, for example.Effectively managing emotionally challenging situationsis an essential skill you need to developas a social researcher.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: When participants get upset,they can become defensive, and verbally lash outat you as the researcher.Such outbursts, or the threat of them,can undermine your sense of safetyand your ability to carry out your researchif it focuses on a particularly emotionally sensitive topic.Concern about upsetting your participantscan lead you to avoid certain lines of questioning,

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: which could potentially underminethe quality of your research.More commonly, feeling anxious about how your participant mayrespond may limit your ability to probe furtheron an interesting topic that can emerge during the datacollection process.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: To minimize the risk of encounteringthese negative outcomes, you can use a pilot studyto refine your ability to strike a good tone,and to practice the steps we're going to outline for you now.The first step is to employ neutral phrasing.We recommend that you employ neutral phrasingby avoiding words and phrases that

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN [continued]: might be considered upsetting or insulting by participantsin your area of study.Gatekeepers, or anyone close to the participantsyou're trying to reach, can help youunderstand what might be particularlyproblematic for people.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: Be familiar with your participants'preferred phrasing to help you navigate controversial topics.For example, if you are researching the commercial sexindustry, you would want to understandwhat terms are used by participants to avoidany insulting or upsetting situations.You could ask your participants directlyabout their preferred terms early in the data collection

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: process to minimize the risk of offending anyone.At a minimum, you should try to reflect the languageyour participants use.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: Distancing yourselffrom controversial questions can alsobe an effective strategy you can use.If your phrasing comes across as too direct,participants might assume that the question reflectsyour views or assumptions about them.For example, if you were researching homeopathy,you could lessen the perceived threat in your questioningand encourage the participants to be more open by,

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN [continued]: instead of saying, "Do you use scientifically verifiedevidence when choosing acupuncture insteadof treatment from your doctor," you could say,"Some people think that they needto find scientifically verified evidence for acupuncturebefore choosing it as a means of therapy.What do you think?"

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: You can also use buffer questionsto reset a research discussion whenit becomes heated, or difficult for the participant to handle.If your participant starts to react badlyduring a line of questioning, use a buffer questionto calm the situation.This should take the form of an entirely non-threatening topicthat the participant can answer easily and confidently.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: It's worth being prepared with phrasesthat explain the interruption from this kind of bufferquestion.For example, if a participant beginsto look angry, upset, or defensive,you could use an interrupting questionsuch as, "Sorry, what you said a moment agoreminded me of something."Once the situation has returned to a more neutral tone,you may be able to reengage the topic using

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN [continued]: a different approach.However, it's usually best to sidestepthe sensitive area that initiallyelicited a bad reaction.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: Consider ending the interactionif the participant shows a strong negative emotion.When this happens, it can be a challenging situationfor any researcher to handle, but you do have a few options.One option is to give the participant timeto regain composure.You should provide gentle indications of empathy,such as nodding your head slowly, and matching

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: their facial expression.Don't forget to remind participants at all timesthat they have the complete control of the interview.Reiterate that they have been very helpful,and provide them with the option of proceeding or stoppingas they choose.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: After taking these steps,you may be able to continue with the interview,taking extra care not to appear at all aggressive or insistentin your manner.Another option is to end the interview altogether.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: You can discontinue the interviewif you feel it necessary.Try to do this without appearing hurried,as soon as it becomes apparent that the situation isdeteriorating.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: If participants choose to end an interview,respect this decision.Don't forget to politely thank them for their timebefore they leave.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: You have the primary responsibilityfor protecting your participants' well-being.If you suspect that you are causing a participantto feel distressed, you should end your interactionin the quickest and least harmful way possible.Your duty of care extends beyond the interview itself.If you have upset participants as a result of your study,you should point the participant in the direction

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: of appropriate emotional support.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: You also want to managethe effects of emotional stress on your research.Many researchers experience some kind of emotional tollfrom undertaking their study, particularlyif it's a challenging topic or one that couldbe very upsetting for people.You may have plenty of your own anxietiesabout the research that then affect how youtry to go about your research.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: Exposure to emotional stressesfrom your research, even from seemingly small,ongoing worries and anxieties, canaffect your emotional and physical health.You may experience sleeplessness, bad dreams,or more serious mental health problems such as depression.Indeed, you may find yourself experiencing physical healthproblems that you feel are unconnected,

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: such as heightened propensity for illness.This could be related to prolonged exposureto stressful research.It is also worth keeping in mind that over time, exposureto emotionally stressful information and experiencescan have a cumulative effect on your health.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: Keeping a work-life balanceis important in research situations.Make sure that you stay in touch with friends, family,and keep a healthy support network around you.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: Maintain interests and activitiesoutside your research area, such as with sports or hobbies.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: And know where you can seek emotional support.Don't be afraid to use that emotional support, as well.This might include a university counselingservice or a free listening service,such as the Samaritans.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: You need to beattuned to possible emotional threats to your well-being,in order to take steps early on if youstart to experience symptoms.There may be heightened risks if youare addressing emotionally challenging researchcontent, such as dealing with terminally ill hospitalpatients.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: This can also be the caseif you're gathering data directlyfrom those affected by some kind of tragedy,or if you're visiting locations where distressing incidentshave occurred.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: Stress can negativelyaffect your decision making.You should be self-aware and alert to possible biasesthat emotional stress may induce.Try to remember that stressful emotions candistort, rather than clarify, your research perspective.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: Repeated exposureto emotionally charged content could give youthe impression that upsetting incidents are more widespreadthan they really are.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: Raw emotional experiencescan make you identify too closely with your participants.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: There are several waysyou can mitigate these types of negative effects.Some researchers may find the social interactionsand expectations of team-based researchmore stressful than solitary research, and othersthe opposite.Yet being attuned to emotional risk indicators either waycan help you detect and evaluate potential emotional risksto your well-being at an early stage,

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN [continued]: when you can more easily implementsteps to mitigate these issues.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: It's really important to keep perspective.You can do this by placing new informationyou encounter into the context of what you already know.You can employ the strategy to reducethe negative effect of emotionally charged researchexperiences.You can find perspective through facts such as examiningstatistics on the issue.Or you could talk to an expert in the field,

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: or to someone you trust.Reframe your experience of negative emotions.Find a new, more positive way of perceivingpotentially upsetting or stressful information.For example, change your internal focus from,"These interviews are upsetting, and I'mworrying about the effect that listening to these accountswill have on me," to "While these interviews are

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: emotionally challenging, this researchholds the promise of gaining new insights that will ultimatelyimprove people's lives."

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: Creating this kind of intellectual distancecan be a useful way to shift from an emotional response.You can keep emotional distance from distressing contentby seeing it as a kind of academic challenge.The idea is to compartmentalize the researchas an intellectual effort, and not as a part of your broaderpersonal life.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: Finally, you shouldconsider at an early stage in your researchif the risks to a psychological well-being whentaking on an emotionally challenging topicare well worth it.This is a personal decision, whichmust be based on your own experience,level of sensitivity, and the particular rangeof emotional risks you're likely to face.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: It is worth thinking deeply and honestlyabout how your research is likely to affect youemotionally.Some research may be too emotionally challengingfor some people, making the emotional costof the research too high.It is far better for you and your participantsif you can come to a clear decisionearly on in the research process.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: As you think about your research,you'll also want to recognize and manage risksto your personal security and property.These are issues of physical risks that you face.You should take sensible precautions, even whenresearching in your home country.This can be as straightforward as makingsure you wear the correct safety equipment when carrying outfield visits, and follow the specified safety

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN [continued]: procedures for that setting.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: Threats to your healthare often elevated if you are carrying out research abroad.In some parts of the world, theremay be no clinics for hundreds of kilometers.In other cases, medical facilitiesmay be severely overcrowded or under-equipped.It is essential that you plan for such needs well in advance.And do not presume that medical supplies and facilities

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: are readily available.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: In particular, before travelingto a tropical location, seek professional medical adviceon the main disease threats and how to avoid them.If you need to take any medications,including preventative ones, don'tforget to consider the risk of distracting side effects, whichmay undermine your ability to carry outyour research effectively.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: Investigate whether youneed additional travel insurance, includingmedical coverage.Whether doing your research in developing or developedcountries, purchase travel insuranceto make certain that you are coveredif there's a medical emergency.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: Don't forget that in some cases,medical insurance could also be usefulwhen carrying out research in developed countrieswhere disease risks are relatively low.For example, you may wish to purchase additional insuranceif you're working with drug addicts, or in other situationswhere your physical health might be compromisedat an elevated level.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: Keep your important health documentsorganized in a centralized location.You should store your medical insurance documents,any backup prescriptions you may have, and contact detailsfor emergency medical services with you,and somewhere where they're easily accessible.Storing them in a waterproof bag or containeris a sensible additional precaution.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: Threats from criminalityare another hazard you may face.These are present all over the world.If you're carrying out research in a developed nation,you may be particularly vulnerableif you're researching issues such as drug useor prostitution, which may require you to spend timeat night in areas with high crime rates.You could even face risks of crime

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN [continued]: from the participants in your research.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: The threat of crimecan be heightened when you're traveling in an unknown place.If you are recognized as being from out of town,thieves may see you as an easy target.They may assume that you don't know your way around the area,and are, perhaps, carrying valuable materials with you.Your laptop, recording equipment, camera, mobile phoneare all obvious targets for thieves anywhere in the world.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: Always be on your guard around others.Pickpockets, working alone or in pairs,often use distraction as a tactic, for example.You could be the victim of a more serious crimeif a criminal lures you into an isolated area.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: In addition, youmay encounter unwanted sexual advances.In some parts of the world, Western womenmay be viewed as being more willing to toleratesexually suggestive behavior.It is usually best to ignore suggestive comments,rather than provoke a confrontation.Wearing a wedding ring can help both men and womenavoid unwanted sexual advances.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: You should do a thorough searchonline for information on the risks in the citiesand countries you're visiting in advance of your visit.Bear in mind that, during certain times of year,some areas may be less safe due to sportingevents, religious festivals, or political demonstrations.Arriving at your research locationat a time of heightened risk is often completely unavoidable.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN [continued]: But you can find information online on identifyingand avoiding such risks.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: Local residents or recent visitors--for example, someone from your university or local business--can be a valuable source of informationabout risks in a given area.You can also review relevant discussions onlineto see if people have been discussingany particular concerns relating to the area youplan on visiting.In developing countries, staff in NGOs

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: that work in the local area can be a good sourceof additional advice.Be persistent, but be courteous, and ask peopleif they can provide contact details of other localswho may be able to help you with more granular, localizedinformation.Learning from the locals is especially valuable,because it gives you the realistic sense of what you'relikely to face in that area.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: Be prepared whentraveling in unfamiliar places and foreign countries.You do this by being sure that you know what kind of issuesare likely to arise in those places.Do your homework, and learn about whatyou're going to be encountering before you arrive.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: It is useful to startwith bigger considerations, such as,is there a reliable transport system in the area I'mgoing to be visiting?And then focus on more micro details.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: In the UK, travel adviceis provided by the Foreign Office.And it would be useful to make this your first port of call.Additionally, many universities have their own travel policiesgoverning the conduct of their students abroad.So keeping abreast of these is very important.After that, you can find the answersto most of your questions with some persistent web searching.Travel guides, friends, and colleagues

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN [continued]: who have visit the area and travel blogscan also provide useful information.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: There are a few key waysof staying prepared when you travel.This can include keeping hard copies of mapsand other important documents.Copies saved on smartphones and other electronic devicesmay be useful in some cases, but can be inaccessibleif your device runs out of power or youcan't connect to the internet.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: Make sure you check that your passport isin date for at least six months after you intend to return,and that you have any required visas for your stay.Keep a backup copy of important travel documents.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: Make sure someone knows where you are,and how to find you at all times.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: If traveling by public transport,you need to work out where departure and drop-offpoints are in advance, as well as the operatingtimes of the transport system, and how to book ticketsin the least expensive manner.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: Driving in foreign countriesis likely to present a variety of different risks.Even in countries with high levels of crime,road accidents often present the greatest safety risk.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: To mitigate driving risks,you should remember the following advice-- familiarizeyourself in advance of any special driving conditionsyou're likely to face.The internet and local sources can provide guidance on this.Avoid driving in urban areas whereverpossible until you gain experience,as these typically have more potential hazardsyou might encounter.Also, avoid driving at night in developing countries,

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN [continued]: as there may not be working streetlights.Cars may not have working lights themselves.And it might be hard to see the kinds of obstacles youmight encounter on the road.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: During your research,your property and belongings can be at riskfrom loss, theft or damage.The risk is greater during fieldworkin unfamiliar settings, where you can't easilyrely on routine conveniences such as accessto safe equipment storage.Also, the more you use your equipment, the more likelyit is that at some point it could become damaged.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: We suggest considering the following steps--first, select robust equipment.Use specialized protective cases.Take precautions against power surges.Keep spares of your most essential equipment.Avoid taking equipment with you on non-research excursions,where it could be unnecessarily at risk.Consistently backup your data.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: An important decisionas you prepare for your research iswhich physical design devices you will use to save your data.Decide whether to use external hard drives or USB flashdrives compared to web-based storage, for example.If you can afford it, consider using multiple options.But be aware that there may be some ethical implicationsin terms of securing the confidentiality

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN [continued]: of your participants' data.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: You also needto consider the other kinds of equipmentthat you take with you on your research trips.Think about having redundant backups,that you never find yourself able to collect databecause of equipment failure.

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN: This advice shouldhelp you identify and mitigate risksto your emotional well-being, health, and property.We've advised thorough preparationbefore going into the field, rather than just relyingon coming up with solutions once you get there.Knowing in advance what risks you're likely to facemeans you know how to identify, avoid, and respond

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    DR. ERIC JENSEN [continued]: to problems if they occur.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE: We have discussedhow to identify and reduce the risk from participants'emotional responses.We also evaluated risks to your well-beingthat can arise if you have to deal with highlyemotive research content, or if you're workingin a stressful situation.We identified strategies that canhelp you maintain emotional balance while conductingyour research.

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    DR. CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: By following these steps, you can identify and navigateemotional issues inherent in all research.From the basic stress and worry all researchers feelto more challenging situations the approaches discussed herewill give you the best possible chanceof arriving at positive outcomes for your research,and your own mental and physical well-being.


Dr. Eric Jensen, Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick, and Dr. Charles Laurie, Director of Research at Verisk Maplecroft, offer common-sense advice on recognizing and managing physical and mental threats during research. They recommend preparation, including planning data back-up and threat mitigation techniques.

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An Introduction to Safe Fieldwork

Dr. Eric Jensen, Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick, and Dr. Charles Laurie, Director of Research at Verisk Maplecroft, offer common-sense advice on recognizing and managing physical and mental threats during research. They recommend preparation, including planning data back-up and threat mitigation techniques.

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